Nancy Giles Talks Coffee

By Nancy Giles

Coffee! I remember my first cup . . . actually, it was four cups!

I was a freshman in college, leaving the cafeteria and heading to a final exam when I heard these two geeky guys say it was a scientific fact that drinking four cups of coffee before an exam would improve your grade!

Well, I turned right back around and downed four cups, loaded with sugar and half-and-half, so it would taste less . . . coffee-like.

I got a B minus on the exam - and I couldn't sleep for two nights.

Coffee was much simpler in those days. You got it at the A&P, and made it in the percolator at home. And then there was instant coffee . . . remember Sanka?

Ordering coffee was simple, too: "Light and sweet," "regular," "black."

At some point, Mr. Coffee exploded onto the scene, and from there, well, things just got really complicated.

Vente . . . Breve . . . Half-caf . . . half-skinny . . . Extra-hot . . . Soy . . . gingerbread . . . Macchiato . . . Con . . . Panne . . . with a caramel drizzle???

What happened? Was it the Yuppies' fault? Was it their need for bigger, more expensive and exotic coffee makers? A dizzying array of choices, pods, packets, these little milk-frothing thingies?

I mean. it's gotten to the point that if you don't grind your own beans, you don't want anyone to know, because the bean pedigree, is oh so important.

I turned to James Freeman, self described "coffee lunatic" and founder of Blue Bottle Coffee, for answers to my burning coffee questions.

I asked, "Is it true that if you drink coffee, it can make you smarter?"

"Smarter," he said, "funnier, more attractive, healthier. Everything!"

Well, OK then!!

James taught me about cupping which, I learned, is an acquired skill, like wine tasting.

First there's sniffing . . . then pouring . . . then more sniffing . . . then slurping (that's the technical term).

He suggested "Lips parallel to the table." "You'll get a better slurp," he said.

James used to make his living playing the clarinet. Making great music, he says, is not all that different from making great coffee.

"So there's music to coffee?" I asked.

"Yeah Everything sings."

James brews iced coffee in a kind of Rube Goldberg contraption . . . for twelve hours!

He adjusts the drips - "They should go about 88 beats per minute, it 's about like the last movement of the Mozart clarinet concerto," he laughed.

The secret to coffee, said James, is "Water and time! That's it."

Wow, now I get it!

gulp! Uh-oh … I'm late … Gotta go!!

For more info:
Blue Bottle Coffee
Stumptown Coffee